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This Is What Sensory Overload Does to My Body

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As an adult on the spectrum, I am often asked what a sensory overload feels like. I can tell you from my perspective what it feels like, as well as how I think you can help your child.

Here’s an example of an overload for me: I have a nice day planned, something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. Let’s say an open-air concert. The weather may be fine, and the company pleasant, but a dull pain starts behind my eyes.

It’s bright and crowded, people are talking on all sides of me. There’s an incredible amount of noise, a steady drone that breaks into separate, painful sparks of color in front of my eyes. Someone near me desperately needs advice on how much aftershave is attractive and how much is offensive to the olfactory system.

I press on my eyes with the heels if my hands and then the nausea begins. Everything’s spinning, though I know I haven’t moved. The slightest touch could start me screaming and thrashing out because I am now in fight-or-flight mode; such is the amount of pain I’m feeling. Even my hair moving in my scalp hurts.

I sink down to the floor to feel something solid to ground myself upon, proprioceptive feedback being vital at this moment. I bite the back of my hand to regulate and breathe slowly, but the nausea won’t leave! I need to get home and lie down in the dark, a weighted blanket and silence my only companions.

Now imagine how that feels to a child in a busy supermarket? That’s why your child holds their ears, covers their eyes and sinks to the floor.

To avoid sensory overload, try to shop when it’s quiet and not too busy. A compression vest is great for proprioceptive feedback, as is an eye mask with a thin soft sponge in each socket cover to apply soft pressure to the eyes. It can be soothing. The last thing to try is deep pressure massage if your child craves touch .

Lying on a bed, feeling the room shift around you even though you are lying still, is incredibly nauseating, so afterward, offer your child a warm, soothing bath and plenty of tactile feedback if they need seek it.

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Originally published: April 15, 2015
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